Mumps outbreak spreads beyond Anchorage

Alaska's first mumps outbreak in decades has spread outside Anchorage, and will likely to continue into the new year, according to a top state health official.

As of Friday, 120 people had been infected with mumps, said Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist and chief of the section of epidemiology with the Department of Health and Social Services. Test results are still pending for another 19 probable cases.

"We are likely going to see this outbreak continue for months to come," McLaughlin said.

Two confirmed cases were in Wasilla. Four were in Eagle River, and one was in Chugiak. The rest of the cases have been in Anchorage.

However, there has not yet been confirmed local transmission outside of Anchorage, McLaughlin said — for instance, someone in Wasilla infecting another person locally.

The outbreak began in May, and by November, the number of confirmed cases had surpassed 40.

No one has died. Two patients had been hospitalized, McLaughlin said, both of whom were adults.

The outbreak has been strongly hitting Anchorage's Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian populations. But the percentage of cases within those demographics has decreased since November, dropping from 80 to 65 percent, McLaughlin said.

The drop "indicates that this outbreak is spreading into other demographic groups here in Anchorage," McLaughlin said.

Also, people in communities outside Anchorage should be on the lookout for symptoms of mumps, McLaughlin said, as the virus will likely continue to spread to other cities and towns.

Mumps is a viral illness that causes headaches, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and swollen salivary glands around the jaw. In rare cases, it can lead to more dangerous complications, including deafness or meningitis.

The virus is passed through coughing, sneezing and touching objects with unwashed hands. Symptoms can take around two or three weeks to develop, and people are contagious for two days before salivary glands start to swell, and five days afterward.

If you think you have mumps, the most important thing to do is self-isolate for five days, McLaughlin said. Call your health care provider and let them know you may have mumps before visiting, so you don't infect people in the waiting room.

"It's that contagious," McLaughlin said.

Mumps vaccinations, which come in two doses, are 88 percent effective in preventing the illness.

The state is recommendation that high-risk groups – people who identify as Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians, and people who visit places where mumps is circulating – get a third dose of the vaccine if it has been five years since their last one.

The state isn't recommending everyone in Anchorage get a vaccine. But on Thursday, it issued guidance to health care providers to give vaccines to people who request one, even if they may not be at heightened risk for contracting the disease, so long as it has been five years since their last vaccination.

Alaska's last mumps outbreak was in Kodiak in 1995, when 10 people were infected. The current outbreak far outweighs the last one of similar scale, in 1974, when 42 mumps cases were reported.

Nationally, mumps cases vary greatly from year to year. In 2017, there have been around 4,980 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that there were two confirmed cases of mumps in Chugiak; there was only one. 

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.